Throughout the 1950s, a flood of migrants transformed the shape of Australian society. Australia suffered a huge shortage of workers for the nation's reconstruction efforts and the nation embarked on a programmer to boost its population. In 1950, it was estimated that 170 000 migrants arrived in Australia. By the end of the decade, this figure would reach one million.
Most migrants hailed from Britain, or European countries, such as Greece and Italy. They had a major impact on the make-up of the Australian population and introduced new food, music, religion and traditions to Australian cultural life.
Many new European migrants worked on construction projects like the Snowy River Mountains Scheme, a huge project that diverted water from the Australian Alps for irrigation and the generation of hydro-electric power.
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Not all people, however, were welcome in Australia during the 1950s. Since 1901, the White Australia Policy had prevented non-white people from migrating to Australia - promoting white, European immigration instead. It would not be abolished until 1974. The 1950s was the era of 'assimilation'. This meant that migrants were expected to abandon their distinct culture and language and 'blend in' to the existing population.
Net Overseas Migration reached a record high of 153,685, the third highest figure of the century, only surpassed in 1919
(166,303) with troops returning from World War One and in 1988 (172,794).
Principles were set for the 1950s: to increase Australia’s population at a rate of one per cent by immigration with the annual migrant intake balanced between assisted and non-assisted migrants, British and non-British migrants, and between northern and southern Europeans within the non-British intake.
The most ambitious phase of Australia's migration program followed the end of World War II. Australia negotiated agreements with other governments and international organisations to help achieve high migration targets.
The agreements, which are no longer in force, included:
• a system of free or assisted passages for United Kingdom residents • an assisted passage scheme for British Empire and United States ex-servicemen, later extended to ex-servicemen or resistance fighters from The Netherlands, Norway, France, Belgium and Denmark • an agreement with the IRO to settle at least 12 000 displaced people a year from camps in Europe • formal migration agreements, often involving the grant of assisted passage, with the United Kingdom, Malta, The Netherlands, Italy, West Germany, Turkey and Yugoslavia • informal migration agreements with Austria, Greece, Spain, Belgium and other countries.
Economic and humanitarian events around the world subsequently influenced the size and source countries of the Australian program. At various times in the 1950s and 1960s, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia were important migrant source countries.
There were also significant intakes of:
• Hungarian and Czech refugees following unrest in…